Skip to Content
Uncategorized

An Amazing AI Advance Makes Google’s Smart Butler Sound Way Better

October 5, 2017

You can thank DeepMind for the slick new voice that emanates from Google’s Home speaker and Assistant app.

This time last year, Google’s London-based AI division announced a new way to synthesize speech. Its software, called WaveNet, tore up the regular rule book for generating human-like voices: instead of stitching together chunks of sound, which ends up creating the clunky robotic voices we’re used to, it generated a whole audio waveform from scratch, one sample after the next. The result was far smoother, with more natural intonations than other speech synthesis approaches.

But there was a hitch: the software took one second to generate 0.02 seconds of audio, making it impractical for use in consumer products. DeepMind said it wouldn’t be used in any of Google’s software for some time, meaning that the clunky old-style voices had to remain.

But over the last 12 months, things have changed. DeepMind now reports that it’s managed to speed up the algorithm by a factor of 1,000, so it can create 20 seconds of audio in one second of compute time. (It does that while actually creating higher-fidelity audio than the old algorithm.) That’s a huge leap, and it has made it possible to run the software on Google’s AI cloud system.

In fact, that’s what is now used to create all the speech uttered by Google’s Assistant AI (which, incidentally, now comes in both male and females versions) on phones and smart speakers.

You can hear an example of old-style non-WaveNet speech synthesis here and the same sentence uttered by the new, fast algorithm here. The difference is pretty stark.

Sadly, DeepMind hasn’t yet published details about how it managed to create the ultra-efficient version of WaveNet, but it says that it plans to in the near future.

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Our best illustrations of 2022

Our artists’ thought-provoking, playful creations bring our stories to life, often saying more with an image than words ever could.

How CRISPR is making farmed animals bigger, stronger, and healthier

These gene-edited fish, pigs, and other animals could soon be on the menu.

The Download: the Saudi sci-fi megacity, and sleeping babies’ brains

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology. These exclusive satellite images show Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up…

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.